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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Passes On Georgia RICO Trial: NY Appeals Court Refuses To Delay Fraud Trial; McCarthy Refuses To Say If He Would Cut Deal With Democrats If GOP Stopgap Fails Tomorrow; Senior GOP Aide: Impeachment Inquiry Hearing Unmitigated Disaster, GOP Chairman Hearing Wasn't Supposed To Be About Fireworks; Interview With Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO); Biden Targets Trump In Speech On Threats To Democracy; Up Close Look At The Dangerous Journey For Migrants Hoping To Reach The U.S. "The Land Of Opportunity"; Parents, Sister Of Evan Gershkovich Discuss Journalist's Six Months Of Detention In Russia. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 28, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: The song comes out tomorrow as part of a movie in which Anne Hathaway appears. It comes after Springsteen pulled the plug on his concerts as he is recovering from peptic ulcer disease, he said, sort of surprising everybody by doing this for the rest of the year. He did say he'll announce new tour dates for 2024 next week.

We wish him a very speedy recovery and look forward to that full new song as I'm sure so many of his fans do. still putting out new songs at 74 that the whole world wants to hear.

Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER: 360": Tonight on 360: Two breaking developments. An appeals court tells Donald Trump the trial that already threatens his company will not be delayed. And the former president decides not to fight to make his Georgia trial a federal case.

Also tonight, President Biden is warning the democracy is in danger and he says not just from Trump and his supporters.

Later, a 360 exclusive: My conversation with a family of "Wall Street Journal" reporter, Evan Gershkovich six months into his captivity in Russia.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

We begin tonight with breaking news from two fronts in the former president's multifront legal battle to stay out of prison and keep the company his father began.

CNN's Jessica Schneider starts us off on the stay out of prison part with the former president's decision not to fight to move his Georgia RICO trial to federal court. So why did the former president's legal team make that decision? JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Anderson, the

official reasoning tonight is they're saying they trust the judge in state court to give the former president a fair trial. So this is what they're saying in their notice to the court tonight. They're saying: "President Trump now notifies the court that he will not be seeking to remove his case to federal court. This decision is based on his well- founded confidence that this honorable court intends to fully and completely protect his constitutional right to a fair trial and guarantee him due process of law throughout the prosecution of his case in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia."

But really what's more likely here, Anderson is that Trump's lawyers really could see that they would face a significant uphill battle if they tried to get this case moved to federal court. They had a deadline to decide which was tomorrow to decide if they wanted to try to move it.

But of course, Mark Meadows, we saw his bid to move his case to federal court, it was rejected. Trump's lawyers closely watched those proceedings. Plus, in addition to those uphill battles, it's really possible, Anderson, that if Trump had asked for removal to federal court, and if he was successful, his case might have actually gone before a federal judge that was appointed by President Obama. His name is Judge Steve Jones. And he's actually been handling some of the offshoot cases from the Fulton County indictment.

So there really was a bit of a gamble here if Trump's team went the removal route, which obviously tonight they've decided not to, and they're sticking to state court.

COOPER: And what's the latest on when the former president's trial in Fulton County will begin and how many co-defendants he would be tried with?

SCHNEIDER: So we know -- we don't know when it will begin. We know when it won't begin. It will not begin with the first trial that's scheduled for October 23. That's the trial with Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro.

Donald Trump and the other co-defendants will not be part of that trial. So it's likely that we'll see maybe a trial with Donald Trump and some of those other 19 co-defendants sometime in 2024. But it won't be anytime soon.

But we do know one thing that because this case won't be removed now to federal court, we'll be seeing those proceedings play out on camera. You know, there's no recording allowed in federal court. But as we've seen in state court, those proceedings will be broadcast. So we will be seeing presumably a trial of the former president on our TV screens.

COOPER: Jessica Schneider, thanks.

More now on the New York appeals court decision today paving the way for the Trump civil fraud trial to proceed this Monday. CNN's Kara Scannell joins us now with new reporting on who might be called to testify.

What did the appellate court ruled today?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So it's just a quick two-page decision, they said that they're denying Trump's motion to stay the start of this trial and this comes on the heels of this ruling earlier this week, which said that Trump committed fraud, and that held him liable for 10 years of these fraudulent financial statements, also canceling the business certificates, which we still don't really know how that's going to shake out.

So now, the trial is expected to start on Monday, the focus will be on damages. And also, the AG's Office has other claims than just that fraudulent financial statement claims. So the trial will focus on whether the individuals of the Trump family committed insurance fraud and whether they falsify business records and some other claims. So there's still a lot at stake at this trial.

COOPER: And WILL members -- I mean, will Donnie, Jr. and Eric Trump and the former president be testifying?

SCANNELL: So they are -- all three of them are on the witness list for the attorney general and for the former president's team. So it's possible that the attorney general's office, you know, they've got 28 people on their list. They have listed Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr, Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Michael Cohen, among many of their witnesses and Trumps' side they're saying that Trump wants to testify, that he is going to testify in this case. Of course, that always is a trial decision, so we'll won't really know until we get there.

But the AG's Office indicates that they want to call them, so we might see them actually walk through those doors and take the witness stand.

COOPER: All right, Kara stay with us. I want to bring in two attorneys, two former federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, Jessica Roth, and CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig.

Jessica, first of all, are you surprised, the former president is not going to try to get this Georgia case moved to federal court?

JESSICA ROTH, NEW YORK CARDOZO LAW SCHOOL LAW PROFESSOR AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I was surprised initially, but then when I thought it through, I thought it made sense as a strategic decision on his lawyer's part. They clearly saw the writing on the wall that they were unlikely to prevail in moving to remove the case to federal court. They were following the Meadows' case. Meadows, obviously lost and Trump in many ways had a weaker claim than Meadows did.

And so they clearly decided it was better to save or conserve their time and resources, and focus that on other matters where it could perhaps be a better payoff.

Plus, he likely would have had to testify, to even have a chance to prevail and that carries significant risks for him in terms of his -- first of all, in him not being a credible witness, but also his statements being potentially used against him in the case in Georgia if it proceeded, and also in the federal case involving January 6th.

COOPER: Elie, it was fascinating to hear in his lawyer's statement to the court, them saying he has full confidence in the judge and the Georgia case. That's not the kind of thing you usually hear coming out of the Trump camp.

Do you agree, though, that that's the reason why he looked at what happened to Meadows and thought, why do that?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I see two big reasons. And by the way, I was genuinely stunned when this guy -- I mean, I did a double take when this notice came -- the notification on the phone --

COOPER: You thought they would go for a --

HONIG: I thought they would try to move to federal court. There's a lot of reasons to do that, starting with a better jury pool for Donald Trump.

However, like Jessica, on reflection, I do see some good reasons to stay in state court. I do take them at their word that they liked the state judge. This is a young judge, Judge McAfee. We've seen him in action on TV cameras. He is 34 years old, but he's been very calm, in control.

He's been giving rulings that I think both sides, like they laid it out a little thick with their emotion, you know, Your Honorable Court, we have full faith in you. But I do think that's one motivating factor.

I think the other one is, they're in a good position tactically in Georgia, in the state court, because they're going to get to sit back and watch the Chesebro and Powell trial.

And their trial is way down the line, they're going to get to see the entire DA's case laid out and that's a good position. If they move into federal court, they might compromise that, they might be forced to trial much quicker. So I understand the reasoning.

COOPER: And Jessica, how much of an advantage is it to see what the evidence is with the Chesebro and Sidney Powell cases?

ROTH: I think it's a great advantage. I mean, they're really going to see -- I mean, the state has said they're going to call all the same witnesses essentially, in that sort of mini version of the trial, but it's not going to be that mini, because the states will be calling basically all the same witnesses to establish the RICO conspiracy, and Chesebro and Powell were actually part of different components of the RICO conspiracy.

So the witnesses who are necessary to address both defendants are pretty comprehensive. So really, Trump is going to get quite a comprehensive preview of the case against him. And I also just want to add, he can raise the same defense that ultimately he wanted to raise in federal court of immunity under the Supremacy Clause, he can raise that in state court as well. So he's not losing out on any of the substantive defenses he wanted to

assert, potentially in federal court.

COOPER: And Kara, in the fraud case in New York, does the does the former President have any options in terms of delaying things?

SCANNELL: I mean, there's a possibility he could file some kind of emergency appeal to appeal this appellate court's ruling. I mean, I've reached out to his lawyers today to see if they're going to get any indication of what they're going to do because the clock is ticking here, but we haven't heard back yet.

So it's really -- I mean, it's not really clear if they're going to have that much time to do something if they don't act immediately.

COOPER: And this is a bench trial. What does that mean?

HONIG: It means that the judge is going to make the ultimate decision both on the verdict, whether it's for the plaintiff or the defendant, and on the amount of damages, it is interesting, that's another surprise, by the way, Kara and I were talking about it that both parties opted for the judge, not a jury.

I mean, a jury, if I'm Trump's team, I want a jury because juries are more dynamic. They're more unpredictable. This judge we just saw his ruling two days ago. It is very heavily against Donald Trump. I'd be very nervous if I was Trump's team, leaving it all up to this judge.

SCANNELL: Trump's lawyer have said in court yesterday, you know, he's not even sure why we're still going to trial since the main decision here has been made, and the AG's Office said that they want to hold individuals accountable and so that's part of the reason they want to push forward.

COOPER: But holding individuals accountable, that doesn't mean -- I mean, that's obviously not criminal. These are financial penalties.

ROTH: It actually bears noting that part of what remains to be decided are the counts in the complaint brought by the AG that incorporate by reference New York criminal statutes.

So it may be that what the attorney general wants is a judicial finding at the end of the case that actually crimes were committed by these individuals and the entities even though that doesn't have criminal consequences, because the counts essentially incorporated by reference these statutes, that would be symbolic power and perhaps an impact on the ultimate remedies that the judge made those determinations.

COOPER: Jessica Roth, thank you. Elie Honig, Kara Scannell, always thank you.

Coming up next, more breaking news. New live reporting within just the last few minutes on the race to head off a government shutdown. And later, President Biden's warning about the threat he sees to democracy. I'll speak with the Republican officials who saw that threat up close and a former CNN contributor who is waging a bipartisan fight against it.



COOPER: There's breaking news now on the possible government shutdown. Tensions as high as we've seen them between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and hardliners in his caucus and now the embattled Republican leaders leaving open the door to a deal that would certainly anger them even further.

Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill with the latest.

Manu, I know you just spoke to Speaker McCarthy. What did he tell you? What's going on?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I asked him about what will happen next. The expectation is that on the floor of the House, he will bring up a bill tomorrow, to keep the government open for a short period of time, but that bill will collapse under opposition from not just Democrats who oppose the spending cuts in there, but conservative hardliners who oppose his spending plans as well.

And then the question is, what will Kevin McCarthy do? Will he cut a deal with Democrats which seems to be the only way out of this jam that he is in right now, with very little room for maneuver.

McCarthy's simply would not say, would not rule it out, would not rule it in. He said that I have time to figure this out. He said that -- I said well what is Plan B here? He said, well there are plans. He said, I'm always gaming out my different . I have a Plan A, B, C, D, and E for everything here.


He would not detail exactly what that is, but the real threat for Speaker McCarthy is that if you were to cut a deal with Democrats that can open him up to a challenge from the right, members threatening to call for a vote, seeking his ouster as Speaker of the House and would only require five Republicans to essentially vote to kick them out along with the old Democrats.

If that were to happen, the House would be in chaos in an unprecedented event and they are warning those hardliners that they will actually go that route if he cuts a deal, perhaps one reason why McCarthy still is holding out some hope that he can pass a bill along party lines tomorrow to keep the government open.

But there's a problem, Anderson, even if you were to have the votes in the House on his Republican plan, it would not pass the Democratic-led Senate or get signed into law by the White House, which is why there are real concerns about a shutdown at this point, as McCarthy is not indicating if he is willing to cut a deal with Democrats to get out of this mess, but also not ruling it out -- Anderson.

COOPER: I understand there was a heated exchange between Speaker McCarthy and Congressman Matt Gaetz. today.

RAJU: Yes, that happened behind closed doors this morning. Matt Gaetz, of course, has been the ringleader of the effort to potentially oust McCarthy, threatening for weeks that he could actually be the one calling for that vote to kick McCarthy out of the speakership.

Gaetz contends that McCarthy's allies have been bashing him on social media actually paying for conservative influencers to post negative postings about Gaetz. Gaetz confronted McCarthy about this behind closed doors at a Republican meeting. McCarthy dismissed it, he said he had nothing to do with it. He said, he wouldn't waste his time or money on Gaetz, and so that he's instead of spending money raising money to help preserve the House Republican majority, that led to some members in the room essentially cursing about Gaetz as well as he has caused a lot of tension among McCarthy allies at this point.

Well, Gaetz has also said that it is McCarthy's fault if there is a government shutdown. Gaetz opposes the short-term spending plans, but says McCarthy mismanaged the House floor and could have kept the government open for some time, if he moved earlier. And I asked McCarthy about that just moments ago, he brushed that off and said, Matt Gaetz is blaming me even though he opposes the short term continuing resolution. He said, okay, and he walked away.

COOPER: Manu Raju, thanks.

Now to the other drama involving House Republicans on Capitol Hill. Today's first public impeachment hearing to President Biden. In the days leading up to it, Republicans promised they had a mountain of evidence connecting the president to his son, Hunter's business dealings.

Now, the evidence the senior Biden abused his public office for financial gain was "overwhelming," so said some Republicans. Instead, none of the witnesses that they had called were witnesses to any of these allegations, and two of those witnesses undercut this alleged overwhelming evidence.

One senior Republican aide told CNN: "This is an unmitigated disaster." The White House called the whole thing a "flop." Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer later said the hearing "wasn't supposed to be about fireworks."

Sara Murray has more.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): House Republicans putting forth plenty of bombast.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): If we had a box of all the foreign money the Biden's took, it would have reached to the ceiling.

MURRAY (voice over): But as Democrats noted, no new evidence.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): What's missing, despite years of investigation is the smoking gun that connects Joe Biden to his ne' er-do-well son's corruption.

MURRAY (voice over): As the GOP convened its first hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, even as Republicans tried to drive home claims the Biden family corruption --

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Hunter Biden referred to access to his father as the keys to his family's only asset. Those words are going to come back and haunt Hunter Biden and his family forever.

MURRAY (voice over): Their own witnesses failed to back them up, noting that Republicans are currently operating on allegations rather than hard facts.

JONATHAN TURLEY, ATTORNEY: I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment. That is something that an inquiry has to establish.

BRUCE DUBINSKY, FORENSIC ACCOUNTANT: I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud, or any wrongdoing. In my opinion, more information needs to be gathered and assessed before I would make such an assessment.

MURRAY (voice over): Republicans kicking off an impeachment inquiry that is set to explore whether Joe Biden performed any official acts, traded access, or offered the perception of access in exchange for money from foreign interests to either him or his family.

Also on the GOP agenda, whether Joe Biden meddled in investigations into Hunter Biden.

REP. JASON SMITH (R-MO): Whether it was lunches, phone calls, White House meetings, or official foreign trips, Hunter Biden cashed in by arranging access to Joe Biden, the family brand.

MURRAY (voice over): But the GOP has not uncovered any proof Joe Biden benefited from his son, Hunter Biden's overseas business deals or intervened in Hunter Biden's criminal prosecution.

REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): You will acknowledge, will you not, that in order to have a criminal act of public corruption or bribery, there must be under McDonnell, an official act in connection to some sort personal benefit. Isn't that right?

COMER: The gentleman's time has expired, but, Mr. Turley, please answer the question.

TURLEY: If I can just point you to my testimony. I talk about quid pro quo.

GOLDMAN: Just answer the question.

TURLEY: It is a little more complicated.

GOLDMAN: No, it's not. An official act for a personal benefit.

MURRAY (voice over): In a hearing that at times grew testy -- COMER: You keep speaking about no evidence, why don't you all just

listen and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to introduce evidence.

COMER: You've already entered it. You've already had your share of evidence.


MURRAY (voice over): Democrats ultimately slammed their colleagues for pressing ahead with an impeachment inquiry amid a looming government shutdown.

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D): It is incredible that we are holding this sham hearing, two days before the government will shut down.

MURRAY (voice over): Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: I'm joined now by Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado. He's a member of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus. He recently wrote in an op-ed: "There's not a strong connection at this point between the evidence and Hunter Biden and any evidence connecting the president."

Congressman, did you hear anything today that changed your mind?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): No, I did not hear anything today. I did not sit through those hearings. I had other hearings to attend. But I certainly read the summaries of the testimony.

I think Professor Turley is someone who carries great credibility in the House and in the Judiciary Committee, and when he says there's not enough evidence to warrant an impeachment, I think it's pretty clear that the evidence while the investigation is ongoing, just isn't there at this point in time.

COOPER: A Republican aide described today's impeachment hearing to CNN as an unmitigated disaster. Did Chairman Comer's witnesses undermine his own narrative trying to link President Biden financially to his son?

BUCK: Yes, and here's the real problem, as I see it, Anderson. Once you start using the word impeachment, you've set expectations with a large percentage of the American public and those expectations aren't being met at this point. It would have been much wiser to have continued the investigations, and if you get information that links President Biden with Hunter Biden's activities, then you start talking about impeachment.

They came out of the box way too early. I don't know if it was intended as a distraction for the upcoming shutdown or certainly continuing resolution that we have to pass or whether it was just a bad play. But it is not a good idea to have these two things coming together at the same time, in my opinion.

COOPER: Is an unmitigated disaster, which was an unnamed Republican aide told CNN, is that a term you would use?

BUCK: No, I think it could be mitigated by further evidence. But I don't think it was a wise move to do at this point in time.

COOPER: When you look at -- I mean, let's talk about the impeachment inquiry and the shutdown, as you just mentioned, I mean, when you look at it juxtaposed with the government shutdown, does it concern you about House Republicans priorities here?

BUCK: It concerns me about House Republicans priorities. It also concerns me about the public perception of our party being able to run the US House. I think that there is nothing worse than a shutdown. I think this is embarrassment.

We knew that September 30th was coming for a long time. We should have been talking in July about a continuing resolution. It doesn't have to be done on the eve of a shutdown.

COOPER: In terms of the optics, if there's a shutdown, should the impeachment inquiry pause while federal employees and members of the military aren't being paid? Because CNN has reported that the impeachment inquiry will be deemed essential work.

BUCK: Yes, I don't know. I am keeping about half of my staff as essential and the other half will get paid when the shutdown is over. I don't know exactly how they're going to parse out who is essential and who's not. But I do think that it should go on the back burner until we finish with the continuing resolution and start funding the government.

COOPER: Some members of the House Freedom Caucus, which you'll remember have sent a letter to Speaker McCarthy demanding to provide a, "clear plan" on spending, as the House grapples with the prospect of not only a stopgap measure to fund the government, but also multiple long term appropriations bills.

You did not sign the letter. Can you talk about why?

BUCK: Yes, one, I think it's really inappropriate to start publicizing things. If we're going to have meetings in the Republican family, we should do it behind closed doors, number one; and number two, I think it is -- when they start adding Ukraine in as one of their demands that we shouldn't fund Ukraine anymore, I am just not in with that.

I think we've got to make sure that Putin does not win this war. And I think we have to make sure that we support Ukraine to the point that we can and be realistic about it, but I really think that they're conflating some issues that don't need to be conflated at this point.

COOPER: The speaker refused to say tonight whether he'd cut a deal with Democrats to keep the government funded. I understand why he wouldn't say that at this stage. That would ensure probably -- I assume that would ensure or you can weigh in -- an effort to oust him from the speaker's office. Have you decided how you would vote in that scenario?

BUCK: I don't know the scenario yet. Let's see what happens if the Senate bill comes over, does the speaker choose a clean CR as opposed to the Senate bill?

[20:25:10 ]

There are a lot of moving parts at this point. I'm just not willing to at this point, make any commitment on a motion to vacate.

COOPER: Congressman Buck, thanks for being with us.

BUCK: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, President Biden's warning today about the former president, the threat he says that he and his followers pose to democracy and what people across the political spectrum can do about it.


COOPER: Today at The Pentagon, General Mark Milley ended his last working day as Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff with a traditional clap out ceremony from colleagues and friends.

He officially turns over his command to General CQ Brown tomorrow morning. This ordinarily would barely merit a mention, yet it's news tonight because unlike his predecessors, General Milley's retirement will include security precautions because his former boss, the 45th president of the United States accused him of treason, and said "In times gone by, the punishment would have been death."

That social media message ended with a thinly veiled threat, "To be continued."

So to be clear, the former president is referring to a highly decorated 44-year combat veteran who now has to spend his retirement looking over his shoulder.

Today in Arizona, in a speech honoring another decorated hero, the late Republican Senator John McCain, President Biden directly addressed that online threat and others like it. He made it a centerpiece of his case against the Trump wing of the Republican Party and those who are silent in the face of what he says is a larger threat to democracy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the United States of America and although I don't believe even a majority of Republicans think that, the silence is deafening. The silence is definitely.

We should all remember, democracies don't have to die at the end of a rifle. They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up, or condemn threats to democracy.



COOPER: The president also singled out a recent post by the former president, promising if he's reelected, he would launch investigations into the parent company, the NBC and MSNBC for, quote, country threatening treason.

Joining us now, Amanda Carpenter, former CNN Contributor, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, and currently writer and editor at Protect Democracy, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting authoritarianism and strengthening democratic institutions. Also with us, CNN Political Commentator and former Georgia Republican Senate governor Geoff Duncan.

Amanda, it is great to see you. It's been forever. I'm really happy you're on. So if democracy in peril is a message that President Biden is going to be campaigning on, do you think it's an effective one, or is there an element of Trump fatigue at play and people just tune out a lot of these warnings at this stage?

AMANDA CARPENTER, EDITOR, PROTECT DEMOCRACY: There could be some fatigue, but let me tell you what I really liked about this speech. And it doesn't really have a lot to do with exactly what Biden said. I think you look at the place and the people that were there. He was there not to just -- to give a good speech about democracy, which I think it was, but he was there to open up a McCain library in honor of John McCain.

Cindy McCain, his beloved wife, spoke at the opening of it. And when she did, she talked about how grateful she was for Joe Biden's friendship. She talked about how they could work together to preserve the flame of democracy. He -- President Biden acknowledged many Republicans that were there in the audience.

That is what it takes to uphold democracy. Republicans have to be part of the equation. And so, I thought that was just a really beautiful moment. And we could use a lot more of that, especially in Arizona, which was such a hotbed of dangerous election conspiracies in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

It blew back on a lot of election officials there, just like it did in Georgia, which, you know, Geoff Duncan can certainly speak to. Because the damage that has been caused by President Trump and all this election, you know, just dangerous, dangerous rhetoric and activity has blown back on Republicans.


CARPENTER: So it is smart for Biden to appeal to them and keep reminding them that we can disagree on policy. He had a great line. We should not let disagreement and debate lead to disunion. That is the right message, and this is the right time. COOPER: Lieutenant Governor Duncan, I mean, the president went out of his way, which he's done before, to say that the majority of Republicans are not MAGA extremists, and obviously, he delivered the speech, as we're talking about, in honor of the late Senator John McCain. As a Republican, was that meaningful to you? Do you think it's effective?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we saw an early look at what his campaign is going to be about, and there's going to certainly be a lot of material there, right? I mean, 91 indictments and a long list of stuff that just continues to come out.

But from my point, as a Republican that really wants to get our party back on the tracks, I think this entire 2024 election cycle feels like a threat to democracy, right? Certainly, there's an endless list of issues on the Republican side. But now you've got a Democratic president with with absolutely terrible polling numbers that probably record breaking low.

You've got growing concerns around family corruption. You've got inflation that is unexplainable. You've got a southern border that he's totally given up on. And you've got an 80-year-old that just isn't aging very well, to put it mildly.

And so all of that put together just feels like if America had a chance to hit the reset button, Democrats and Republicans, they would do it in a heartbeat. And -- but for whatever reason, we're both stuck in stall speed and we have our 5th or 6th or 50th or 60th. We're best candidates in both parties running this election. It may be the most crucial period of time in our country's history.

COOPER: Amanda, you said that upholding democracy can't be a partisan issue. It -- I mean, isn't the reality that it is a partisan issue? I mean, if the former president has hustled democracy and he has a huge support among voters and on Capitol Hill, that says something, no?

CARPENTER: It's -- I think it will be a choice in the coming presidential election. But I also remember there were many Republicans after January 6, after 2020 that came forward and provided their testimony about the damage that these things can do, right? Like, we need Republicans to be a part of that equation.

And so, you know, I can agree with Geoff that there are serious policy issues that we should debate. But when you have -- like, say we're going to have a choice in this election between somebody who says that General Mark Milley should be executed because he was insufficiently loyal to the former president.

And another who at least knows enough to honor veterans and can extend that olive branch and say, can't we come together on this? I don't see that as a partisan issue.


COOPER: Lieutenant Governor Duncan, do you -- I mean, do you think the country's democratic institutions are strong enough to withstand being tested again in 2024?

DUNCAN: I certainly hope so. I mean, we watched our country rise up after January 6th and do the things that we needed to do to get back on track. But still, there's a completely group, huge group of misguided individuals.

Look, Republicans aren't going to turn the corner until we hold Trump accountable. We hold him accountable for the fact that he lost to Joe Biden in 2020. That was his fault. He campaigned terribly. He ran on the wrong message, and he was self centered throughout the entire time.

We have to hold him accountable for all the things he didn't do right, and we've got to turn the page. But until we're willing to take our own medicine and call out Donald Trump for what he is, and that's a large lump. A fool's gold. That's all. That's all he is.

And that's all he's ever been his entire career. His entire lifespan has been about being fool's gold. And now we're watching it play out in the business world. We watched it play out in the political world. And it's just -- the issues today are too important.

I personally think Joe Biden is not the right person to lead our country for the next four years. I think we ought to have a conservative minded individual that can work with the middle. But we have to find a candidate that is willing to ignore the right -- the far-right, the 35 percent that's going to visit Donald Trump in jail one day.

COOPER: Geoff Duncan, Amanda Carpenter, thanks so much.

Coming up next, migrants on the move, adults and children heading north under difficult conditions, dangerous, on foot, facing steep climbs in the jungle, also on rafts and in packed vans, trying to make it to the U.S. border.

David Culver joins them on part of the journey. His report ahead.



COOPER: Now another in our series of up close looks at the dangerous and desperate journey that migrants are taking from South America into Central America then to Mexico with hopes of reaching the United States. It's happening even as Mexico has pledged to help combat the recent surge with more deportations. Actions that appeared to have slowed the migrant flow at the U.S. border but not stopped it despite the danger.

CNN's David Culver has more.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They stick together throughout. No one left behind from falls to steep climbs. (on-camera): A lot of young children, so some of them are just basically being carried up.

(voice-over): To dead ends.

(on-camera): They started to go the wrong way for the moment, and now they're backtracking a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Setback after setback.

CULVER (on-camera): He's saying that they paid. We're promised another pickup on the other side. But it seems like that driver just took off with their money.

(voice-over): This is just part of a day's journey for these migrants. A day that started not here in southern Mexico, but across the Suchiate River in Guatemala.

With passports stamped, we take the official land crossing. Stepping into a vibrant Tecun Uman. In the shade of the town square, we meet two families from Venezuela, traveling as one.

(on-camera): They're saying they're ready to cross.

(voice-over): They welcome us to join.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

(on-camera): Seven years old.

(voice-over): A 15-minute stroll to the river after 18 grueling days on the road. Jamila Rodriguez (ph) tells me it's been costly.

(on-camera): She says, like, going through the jungle is like dealing with the mafia. She says, you have to pay in order to leave, and they had to pay 250 a person.

(voice-over): As they arrive at the river, another expense, the crossing. Meanwhile, we go back to the Mexico side, using the official entry, and hop onto a raft.

(on-camera): We're waiting for the two families that we met to make their way across and they're about to board a raft and meet us in the middle as they cross illegally to Mexico.

(voice-over): Their raft drifts over the border and we meet again in Mexico.

(on-camera): He's saying they're headed to the land of opportunity.

(voice-over): Migrant children scramble to help tug them to shore. They step off into Ciudad Hidalgo, a small border town. It allows for just a moment of joy, if only for the kids.

Their goal tonight, Tapachula, to get Mexican transit documents. They learn it's not as close as they'd hoped. 20 miles, normally an hour's drive. But, there's a catch.

(on-camera): Is that your van?


CULVER (on-camera): Oh, OK. They're getting on right now.

(voice-over): Because they never entered Mexico legally, they need to avoid the multiple migration checkpoints. Otherwise, the Mexican drivers could be accused of smuggling. Every crevice of the van filled. Then, they're off.

On the road for only about 10 minutes, we watch as they pull over just before the first checkpoint. Everyone out. They walk the direction they think they're supposed to head.

(on-camera): You can tell they're basically just trying to figure out their way as they go. They have no real guide. They were told some general instructions. And now they're just trying to figure it out.

(voice-over): Weaving through brush and high grass. Up and down hills. They skirt around the first migration checkpoint. But on the other side, the same driver who they paid to wait for them has taken off.

(voice-over): So they're trying to figure out if they can get another van when they keep walking. Looks like for now they're just going to keep walking.

(voice-over): A few minutes pass, another van pulls up. Fifteen minutes later, another stop. Another checkpoint walk around. 30 minutes after that, yet another. This one takes them on a bridge directly over the migration checkpoint.

Back on the van they go. Before sunset, they make it to Tapachula. Relieved? Sure. Also overwhelmed, thinking about the unknowns ahead. But determined to keep moving north. Smiling and waving. We'll see you later, they tell us.


CULVER: I think one thing that really stood out in all of this, Anderson, and going along with them for that part of the journey, and really just one day for them, is that the enforcement from migration officials, be it on the Guatemala side or here in Mexico, is really lax.

I mean, you see them going back and forth very casually as officials are just standing there, and I think that speaks to just how overwhelmed officials on both sides are and really feel no need to try to enforce anything beyond keeping people safe physically as possible.


By the way, I did check in with that family a short time ago. Just in the past 24 hours, they have made it another 90 miles from where we are, north, closer to the U.S. border. COOPER: David Culver, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, a 360 exclusive interview. Six months ago, tomorrow, Russia detained Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich on charges that he and the Journal and the U.S. say are false. His parents and sister join me next.


COOPER: We're fortunate tonight to have an exclusive interview with the parents and sister of Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich. Tomorrow will mark six months since Russia's detained him on accusations of trying to obtain state secrets. He and the Journal deny the allegations.

I'm joined now by his sister, Danielle Gershkovich, and parents Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich. First of all, how are you all holding up?


ELLA MILMAN, EVAN GERSHKOVICH'S MOTHER: Well, after the initial shock, we came together and we're holding up for ourselves and for Evan, with the help of our friends, his friends, and the Wall Street Journal and support from the journalists around the world. We are holding up and doing very well to show Evan that we are strong.

COOPER: You both were able to actually see him. You've gone over twice to Russia. You saw him in June and were -- you were actually able to talk to him.


COOPER: Did you know in advance that you were going to be able to talk to him?

MILMAN: No. It was a possibility.

COOPER: What was that like for you, Mikhail?

MIKHAIL GERSHKOVICH, EVAN GERSHKOVICH'S FATHER: It was great to just see him and talking to him was superb. Being there, it was like, having him back.


M. GERSHKOVICH: Just the physical presence and his voice just made you very happy. Of course, it also made us very sad leaving because we couldn't take him with us.

COOPER: Take him with you.


COOPER: How did he look to you in June? MILMAN: He looked well. And he is kind of defiant. He hasn't done anything wrong. He's smiling. He understands what's going on. And I have to say under all the circumstances, he's doing really well.

COOPER: Now that you're able to write to him, right?


COOPER: How often are do you do that? How do you get letters to him? How are you -- how often can you correspond?

D. GERSHKOVICH: We send each other letters about once a week. And I -- it's just so nice. I hear his voice in my head when I read them. It just feels like we're -- we get to talk.

COOPER: I read that, in a letter you had told him that, he never wanted to listen to your stories when he was little --


COOPER: -- but right now, he has to listen to your stories and letters.

MILMAN: He is my prisoner.

COOPER: He is your prisoner. What did he say back to you about it?

MILMAN: Well, he loves my stories.

COOPER: He says he loves your stories.

MILMAN: He says keep writing.


MILMAN: You know, we didn't speak to him that often when he traveled and now we speak to him once a week, which is, very nice. It's like ongoing conversation.

COOPER: Can you write any length of letters or do you have to keep it --

MILMAN: Well, I wrote 10 pages --


MILMAN: -- of handwritten.


MILMAN: And we include pictures that we print on the paper. And that's how we communicate. I believe a lot of hi friends do the same. He's a busy guy to read all the paper, letters, to answer them.

COOPER: He has supporting friends all around the world.

MILMAN: Yes, yes.

COOPER: It's got to keep his spirits up to hear from all of you.


M. GERSHKOVICH: Definitely. I mean, his friends also keep our spirits up as well because he has a lot of friends, college friends, high school friends, his colleagues, people he met around the world.

COOPER: You're in communication with the U.S. government. So you believe that they are working hard on this?

M. GERSHKOVICH: Of course, we have to believe that. We are very -- we're getting a lot of strength and hope from the fact that they're involved.

COOPER: Was he always interested in being a reporter from a young age? I mean, did it surprise you when this is what he went into?

MILMAN: Not really, because he was very curious from a young age.

COOPER: Oh, really?

MILMAN: And he is -- connects to people easily. Has a lot of interest in people and loves to have a conversation. And when he went to college, basically, he found this love. He started writing in college.

COOPER: It is the mark of a great journalist that he's genuinely interested in other people, and even if it's not for a story, he's just interested in people. Was he always that way for -- when he was -- is that how you remember him?

D. GERSHKOVICH: Yes, I remember Evan as being observant as a kid --

COOPER: Which can be annoying in a younger brother, I would imagine.


COOPER: Was he reporting on your business?

D. GERSHKOVICH: No, thankfully. But, especially as we grew older, I just realized that this quality has made him a really good listener. And just amazed by how well he knows people.

COOPER: What can people do who are interested in, in helping in whatever way they can?

D. GERSHKOVICH: I can answer that. We need to keep the focus on Evan. So, we really appreciate everyone who's been taking to social media, and reading his reporting, which is available to read. And we just want to keep the focus on him.


MILMAN: Evan is an American boy who loves baseball, American food. He always would come home after his fancy trips and wanted to have a hamburger and buffalo wings, and watch baseball and watch American football. He's an American boy who is -- has roots in Russian culture.

COOPER: You both left the Soviet Union to come to America. When he was reporting from Russia, did it worry you?

MILMAN: Well, not at the time. Things changed a lot --


MILMAN: -- since he started. He came to Russia in 2017. Things were a lot different at the time.

COOPER: I'm sorry we're here six months later and talking about Evan, that he's not here, talking about his experiences. But I wish you continued strength and peace in the days ahead. Thank you so much.

MILMAN: Thank you.

M. GERSHKOVICH: Thank you.

D. GERSHKOVICH: Thank you.

MILMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: It's hard to believe.

Coming up next, what authorities are now saying about the murder of a young tech CEO now that the man accused of killing her is in custody.


COOPER: An update now on the murder of a 26-year-old tech CEO in Baltimore now that the suspect is in custody. According to court documents obtained by her affiliate WJZ, the victim, Pava LePere, died from strangulation and blunt force trauma, was found on a rooftop of her apartment building.

The documents also revealed that detectives have surveillance video showing the suspect, Jason Billingsley and LePere, in the lobby, talking and getting on an elevator together. Please say they do not think they knew one another.

That's it for us. The news continues. I'll see you tomorrow. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.